Monday Opinion: Courting The Muse

I have a very dear friend whom I have known since my early twenties.  We have shared a very on and an extended off,  and then intensely on again relationship- over a good many years.  She is an artist, and a very fine one at that.  No one would argue that point, but her.  We are arguing that point right now, as she is unsatisfied with her paintings.  I am squarely positioned to be a resonating gong-I reject the entire idea of being a sounding board.  Sounding boards tend to absorb and muffle trouble.  I would want to amplify everything she says to me.  Sometimes it is hard to hear something until it gets really loud.  I hope I reflect her notes loud enough that she relocates her muse.

I understand something about her issue.  I have days I cannot design.  I have projects that I stare at until I am blue in the face, and nothing comes.  I know when I am tired or blocked-I have this instinct to repeat myself. Or the even more dangerous-the instinct to repeat someone else.  I have places in my own garden that embarass me-that makes me angry.  There are those times when frustration and pressure threatens to dictate a result I will not be able to stand behind with pride. Creativity cannot be summoned.  I find I need to hover over it, and give it space.  Pressure from within and without nudges my muse.  This is as much as I can tell you about my process.  My friend is much different than I.  Her muse responds to a music she makes. I would not be able to hear it, or see it,  but for her.  I cannot really help her; I can only be her friend. This is a courtship involving two, and 2 alone.      

What makes my friend such a fine artist is how she views her work dispassionately, critically.  Her critical, emotionally charged eye is too much better than 20-20.  I am very sure she will be able to figure out how to reconfigure that critical eye of hers into a brush loaded with paint poised over a piece of paper.  Any emotionally charged thought transformed into a physical expression-that’s what I would call creativity.  These things get expressed straight from the heart. 

How does any of the aforementioned relate to a gardener, and their garden?  Every gardener has their own special set of circumstances.  Their own particular likes and dislikes.  Their own particular point of view.  Their own particular muse.  No gardener has any need to do over what someone else has already done.  No gardener needs to repeat what they have seen, read, or visited.  Modern communications makes it possible to see thousands of images of other people’s gardens.  Other people’s work.  Other people’s ideas.  One of the most satisfying parts of owning a garden is the secure knowledge that it belongs to you.  This has to do with an authenticity, an integrity of place.  One of the toughest part of designing for others is to take the time to know enough about the client that their point of view comes first.  The toughest part of designing for yourself is understanding that the voices of others represent those others-not you.  Turn on your own channel, and see what’s playing.  Everyone has days when all that appears on the screen is static, but sooner or later something is bound to click.  I have had friends tell me that the experience of walking a labyrinth is the equivalent of turning on one’s own channel.  When I am unsure about what move to make, I walk the garden over and over again, until everything extraneous drops away, and I can hear or see what I need to do, or what direction I need to go.  Of course one’s taste changes, and gardens revolve around that change.  Are you laboring under the misconception that you lack taste, or creativity?  It comes standard issue, unless you bury it somewhere, or turn the volume off.    

As for my friend, I do not worry.  She feels a need for change, but has no idea what form that change will take.  She is not satisfied with what she has already done-good for her.  I am happy for her angst. Bravo. She wants her own work, better than she thought she could have it.  This alone puts her ahead of where she is now.

At A Glance: Nicotiana In October

 

A Busy Week

We had gusty winds today, sun and stormy clouds alternating, and cool temperatures.  It seems like it rains every fifteen minutes-for days on end.  Our weather is beginning to act like fall.  I am not sorry for this really.  It makes all of the plantings I did this week seem appropriate to the season. 

Rob found these great bleached sticks and branches with bleached leaves from a company in Canada-I was keen to try them out.  I was pleasantly surprised by the contrast of light and dark in these planters.  The blond leaves highlight the complex and moody color and texture of these redbor kale.  That tall centerpiece will go on to provide the foundation for an arrangement that will last the winter. 


It may be hard to see exactly what materials are in this trio of pots, but how the low in the sky fall light illuminates plants is one of the best parts of fall.  As thick as cabbage and kale leaves are, those leaves transmit light.  There are times when a fall planting captures that light in a beautiful way.  No summer container planting ever has this look.  The long low slanting shadows-a sure sign of fall. 

The creeping jenny from a summer planting was left in this pair of pots.  It will brave the cold until very late. The color is not quite so lime like as it is in the summer, but it still is as green as green can be.  Any summer plant that can handle what fall dishes out, we leave in.  I try to handle the transition from one season to the next as gracefully and simply as possible-why not? 

Most pennisetum plumes have lost their their color, and some of their bulk by now, but that feathery texture is a great foil for those giant, silent, and unmoving kale leaves.  This planting has a lot of movement, in spite of those kales and cabbages.  Interesting relationships are vital in creating lively compositions.  This robustly trailing vinca maculatum thrives on this cold; it has been in this planter since May.       

A garden terrace now is much more about the look from inside, than a place to be.  I try to go out every night that I can, and I am not afraid to bundle up. Winter will wander in soon enough.  But I do like a planting that looks great from the street, or the kitchen window.  Some nights now are just too cold for a stay.   I would guess this client has moved inside, but that does not mean they do not want a good view of the out of doors.

The centerpiece of this rectangular planter is dried bahia spears, and preserved eucalyptus dyed a color I call butterscotch.  The cabbages front and center have turned quite pink, given the cooler weather.  The angelina trailing in the front would easy survive the winter in this planter, were it left there.  Placed just next to the front door, this planting gives a cheery fall hello to anyone who comes to the door.   

The chocolate centerpiece in this planter is comprised of many stems of a tall weed gone to seed.  I am sorry, but I do not know the name.  Is it dock?  I only know they look sensational in the fall.  Were I interested in having them long term in a pot, I would spray them with Dri-Seal.  But for the fall season, I just bunch them up around a bamboo stake, and set them at a height that looks good to me.  The loose creamy grass-plastic.  They add just enough adrenalin to this planting to make you come back, at the very least, for a second look.

The Community House in Birmingham Michigan hosts an art show and sale for local artists every October.  I may be wrong, but it seems like the Our Town event has gone on 25 years now.  The past two years, we have placed fall pots at the entrance in celebration of their event.  I like how local artists have a yearly chance to show and sell their work.  The intent here is to welcome visitors to the exhibition.   

These contemporary beehive pots from Francesca del Re look great planted for fall.  The theme of their show this year-the garden.  I plan to get there this weekend to see how some 200 artists have interpreted that idea. 

We were busy this week, planting.  We also were making the rounds to all of those clients who have topiaries or tender plants they want wintered in the greenhouse space we have on reserve.  The installation of a landscape for a new house-we are fighting the rain, the mud, the carpenters, plumbers, and  masons.  Business as usual-a very busy week.

Tulip Time

I have not lost my marbles, thinking about tulip time in October.  This is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs.  My supplier sent me 22 emails today regarding the details of the UPS shipments of my bulbs. I plant lots at the shop.  I plant for clients too.  I wish I planted more.  It is very hard to appreciate the fragrance and beauty of spring flowering bulbs 8 months in advance of the event.  But I will try to express that-hoping it will encourage you to plant for spring.   

I hope my pictures encourage you to plant ahead. The one characteristic I admire most about gardeners the very most is their stubborn hope for the future.  A better garden next year.  A better spring for magnolias-next year.  The slip of a plant that becomes a major plant in a few years.  The spring to come.  Your spring is in your hands.   

Those brown tulip orbs of varying sizes represent a future garden.  Think about tulips, and move on.  There are lots of other spring blooming bulbs.  The spring anemone blanda bulbs are shrivelled peas when they arrive; soak them for 24 hours, and plant. The grape hyacinths are available in plenty of variations.  They are one of the longest lasting spring bloomers.   The tulip bulbs with their papery coating promise a plant with wide and luscious leaves culminating in a bloom of extravagant proportion.  Tulips fit into an established perennial garden as well. Order up plenty of those brown bulbs.    

There are many species and hybrids of tulips available, whose bloom time spans late April until late May.  They are  the showgirls of the spring garden.  After a Michigan winter, I am ready for their beautiful globular forms, their fresh fragrance, their supremely green stems and luscious leaves.  I am as grumpy about the fall as you are.  Our fall has been balmy so far-this is perfect planting weather.  Thinking about bulbs in late November-plant them in pots, in ther shelter of your own garage.      

This double tulip Akebono is exquisite.   My order of 100 bulbs last fall has been increased considerably.  A group of 10, or 25, or 110 planted in your garden this October will reward you handsomely next spring.     

Winter in the Midwest is a tough go.  Part of what gets me through that bleak season is the promise of spring.  Those various brown knobs and orbs, sequestered underground, ready to represent, once the snow melts, and the weather warms. No garden should be without tulips. I like to plant a mix in the big bed in front of the shop.  Next spring’s scheme will be very different than this.   

Should you have a perennial garden with but a few spaces available for tulip bulbs, there is always the option to pot them up the fall. A pot of tulips on the front porch in early May is a very good look.  It is easy to bring on potted tulips-give it a try.   

 Our winters are notable for the grey.  Grey skies, dirty snow, low temperatures.  Should you have a mind to emerge from the winter in fine style, plant some tulips. Plant lots of tulips.  Plant a fistful of tulips in an important spot. A plan for little color is in order, is it not?  This box of Oxford tulips was companion planted with yellow frittilaria.  Though the flowers are gone, the foliage looks great with the tulip flowers.  

No doubt it is hard to embrace the promise of a fresh gardening season right now.  Last spring’s pictures are helping to put me in the mood.    

Your local nursery has tulip bulbs.  John Sheepers has a complete range of tulips and other spring flowering bulbs available.  Becky’s Bulbs is a superb source.  October is time of choice in my zone to plant daffodils, hyacinths, anemones, tulips, grape hyacinths, and a whole other host of spring flowering bulbs.  If you are like me, you do not want to do without the snowdrops, crocus, chionodoxa, or hyacinthoides.  Part of preparing for winter is to make time for some tulips.  Plant what you can.